The Hope of Christ's Coming

Homily for Midnight Mass. Is 9:2-7; Ps 95; Tit:2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14

In tonight's great solemnity we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Christmas is Jesus' birthday, the word 'Christmas' being a phrase from medieval Catholic England, 'The Mass of Christ'. Along with hundreds of millions of people across the world this evening, people of every nation, race, tribe and language, we are literally celebrating 'Christ's Mass' this evening. But since familiarity with the story of Christ's birth might lead us to take this event somewhat for granted, in tonight's brief homily I would like to look at what the world would have been like if Jesus had not been born.

What the world be like without Jesus Christ? We have gain some kind of answer from our knowledge of what the world was like before his birth and also what many parts of the world are like today that have not yet heard of the Gospel. A world without Christ is not a world without religion or knowledge of God. Belief in God is natural for human beings. With the exception of the Jewish people, however, most peoples of the world before Christ perceived God as, at best, remote and in the background of their lives. One famous philosopher argued 'yes', there is a God but 'no', we have no hope of being friends with God: God, he said, is too different from ourselves for friendship. Furthermore, this separation from God had a moral aspect. The Jewish people were not the only people with the story of a fall from grace, a separation from God due to sin. The human condition summed up in Genesis is not edifying: human beings thrown out paradise, dressed in the skins of animals, running away from their maker, but other ancient cultures also perceived that human beings were, in some sense, fallen and deprived of the light of grace. One philosopher, for example, pictured the human condition as being like that of prisoners in a cave, condemned to watch only the shadows of real things, cut off from the world of light. Perhaps with an inchoate sense of guilt, many people therefore turned away from God in the ancient world, as they still do today, preferring to worship false gods such as the images of beasts and monsters. Furthermore, this was a world without final hope. The Egyptians built pyramids to stave off decay, but they could not prevent these great edifices crumbling back into the desert. The Greeks invented philosophy, but eventually ran out of things to talk about. The Romans conquered the world, but did not know what to do next. All human beings faced the same problems: separation from God, sin and death, bringing even the greatest human achievements to an end.

This doomed state of affairs has changed with the coming of Christ. This small beginning, like a seed sown deep in the earth, in a cave in Bethlehem, has grown and transformed the world. The Roman Empire decayed; a new society, the Church, took its place. Pagan temples crumbled into ruins; cathedrals arose instead. New kinds of art and music were born to honour Christ and his saints. Missionaries have gone to every corner of the world to proclaim the gospel. Even time itself is now divided into BC, before the coming of Christ, and AD, 'in the Year of Our Lord'. Yet such visible effects are the only fruits of a deeper spiritual redemption from sin, death and separation from God. For Jesus Christ was born to be sacrificed, to save us from our sins, to reconcile us to God and to give us the hope of the resurrection and eternal life. The coming of Christ has enabled us to become children of God, to be born in the waters of Baptism made holy by Christ and to address God, not as a remote deity, but with the word 'Father'. No longer being doomed to face the death of all our hopes in a decaying world, the coming of Christ has given us all that we need to become saints in the glory of heaven forever.

How is it, then, that the birth of this one child in Bethlehem has brought about so much for the world? The answer is shown symbolically by the crib in our church. Notice that representatives of the whole of creation are around the crib: angels in heaven, the star in the sky, the child's mother Mary, Joseph, shepherds and kings and even sheep and cattle. They are gathered around the manger not simply to honour the birth of some great man or even a future saint. They have come to look on the face of God made flesh, lying asleep in a manger; they have come to worship God made man to save us.

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